February's Taste of Culture Showcases Student Performers, Poetry, and Soul Food
Every month, Olivet College has hosted Taste of Culture nights in the Kirk Center for students to come together and learn about different cultures of the world.
Associate Dean of Student Life Jason Meadows said that the Taste of Culture nights are an “opportunity” for the school to work with Chartwells Food Services and “highlight different cultures and just some of the food dishes that they have because we believe that culture is consistent with music, clothing, identity, and food, and food is a great way for people to gather together and have a shared experience.” He said that these nights may “stimulate” students to go “travel”, “become more adventurous”, and “become more curious about cultures that are different from them.”
Meadows said this month’s night is focusing on celebrating Black History Month (February) by having not only food, but also hosting performances and poetry from some Olivet College Gospel Choir students. He said that the theme is called “African American Music as the Soundtrack to Liberation.” He said he wanted to focus on music because the students can experience not only some “great soul food”, but the songs being sung. He also said that the songs in “African American tradition”, will have a “sense of liberation . . . hope, and even hurt, and if students can hear that while they’re eating some of the foods that were a part of that culture, it can be a great learning experience . . .”
Administrative Assistant Chef for Chartwells Ben Mayhew said he comes up with the food menus and also runs the “Teaching Kitchen” that happens at the events.
“A lot of the times that requires me to go to some specialty stores and more ethnic type stores to get the authentic ingredients,” said Mayhew.
He said the “Teaching Kitchen” is a “wonderful opportunity” for him to prepare food in front of the students, have them help him prepare it, and teach them how to cook it. He said that he does this to “bridge the gap . . . a lot of the times when you just go up to see a pan of food already made, you don’t really have the connection with the culture or why that’s an important dish for that culture.” For this month’s night, he said that he is preparing soul food. “To be able to put that much passion into a plate of food is just unlike any other culture in the world.”
Freshman Arreyanna Echols said she has participated in all of the Taste of Culture nights this school year, and she is participating in this month’s as well. Echols said that she was “pulled in” after attending the first night.
She said, “I think my favorite one was probably the Native American Taste of Culture because the Native American (Navajo) fry bread was like really good . . . that was one of the most popular ones (nights).” She said she participates every time by helping Mayhew prepare the different foods and encourages other students to try and participate. “If they see a student doing it, maybe it’ll get more students interested and to learning how to make . . . a new dish that they never tried before . . . I feel like a Taste of Culture should be . . . a class or something for people to learn how to . . . make new dishes from . . . different parts of the world instead of sticking to what they just know . . . if we branch out, we will . . . be able to . . . pull more people in,” said Echols.
Freshman and Gospel Choir member Caleb Arthur is attending and participating in this month’s night as well for the first time, but he will be performing in song.
“I’m just bringing the vibe with it so people can understand like the culture with us.” Arthur said.
At first, he was not that excited about the night because no one opened up to him, but now that the choir is starting to get “active” into it, performing in this night gives him “joy”. He said people get to bring their “gifts into a Taste of Culture, so it’s actually kind of fun now.” Arthur also said he likes the “idea” of the events because the college is diverse and it gives everyone a “taste of a whole bunch of different cultures . . . a lot of people (are) not exposed to that” on campus.
Sophomore Jaleca Blue is also in the choir and is excited to be singing a duet with Arthur. Blue said she is “looking forward to the audience just actually tuning in, you know, us not being only background music, but an entertainment to people.” She said she does not know what to expect this year, but she is “hoping for nothing, but the best.”
Freshman Brooklyn Pruitt, also a choir member, said, by email, that she is singing and is “truly honored to have this opportunity.” She has never been to a Taste of Culture so she is “anticipating the turn out.” Pruitt said, “I’m looking forward to learning and experiencing the diversity and different cultures present . . . To me, the ‘Taste of Culture’ means unity and togetherness no matter our differences.”